Jump to Navigation

Indigenous Lands: Painful History of State Control Over Forests Traced by ‘Heavily Deforested Footprints’

External Reference/Copyright
Issue date: 
28 April 2010
Publisher Name: 
More like this


Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; Ninth Session; 12th & 13th Meetings (AM & PM):

The “painful” history of State control over forests could be traced by following the heavily deforested footprints that colonizers had left on indigenous lands and territories, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was told today during a half-day discussion on indigenous peoples and forests.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Permanent Forum member from Philippines and one of six expert panellists to engage delegates on the topic, said an estimated 60 million people lived in or near the world’s tropical rainforests.  Sadly, studies had revealed that those people lived in some of the most poverty-stricken conditions on the planet, and that their local Governments were among the most corrupt.

Another challenge, she said, was that conservation initiatives, such as the creation of national parks and wilderness reserves, had led to the ejection of many indigenous communities, primarily because conservationists believed that the only way forests could be preserved was by “throwing out all the people”.

“It’s about time that international community and States really recognize the rights of indigenous peoples […] by reforming colonialists polices and giving indigenous people the rights to manage their own lands,” she said.

Along similar lines, panellist Pavel Sulyandziga, Forum member from the Russian Federation, described numerous events over the decades in which Governments or eager international investors had tried to develop the Taiga region, an area “where the North and the South come together” and that contained grounds on which no human foot had been placed.  The four remaining groups of Udege people continually fought to preserve their territories, which often left no time for other endeavours.

On the global front, panellist Maria Teresa Mesquita Pessôa of Brazil pointed out that forests were covered under the instrument on all types of forests, a major achievement in that it determined that indigenous peoples should be involved in all decision-making that affected them.

She said issues like financing for sustainable forest management, biodiversity conservation, water resource protection and equitable benefit sharing all had real and immediate impacts on peoples in indigenous territories.  Global efforts to promote such management must comply with applicable national indigenous legislation.  Among the rights to be observed was that indigenous communities must be allowed to decide on the use of traditional knowledge relating to genetic resources.

Earlier in the day, the Forum continued its extensive debate on a range of issues, from climate change to traditional land rights to education under agenda items 3, 4 and 7.  Speakers representing some of the world’s oldest civilizations took the floor to air their grievances and press the Forum to do more for their peoples.

Denise Elnajjar, of the Syriac Universal Alliance, said the Syriacs, or Assyrians, were a “forgotten people” in the Middle East, despite their extensive and lasting historical contributions to human culture and religion.  They were the indigenous people of Mesopotamia whose history spanned over 6,000 years.  Aramaic was the oldest living language in the Middle East, yet the Syraic people had never enjoyed basic rights.

Other speakers said they represented groups that had never been recognized by their Governments -– their rights had been left out of national constitutions and their cultures all but wiped out by the dominant mainstream, particularly in the area of education, which they said was a key vehicle for transmitting and sustaining traditional values.

Chantria Tram, of the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation, Montagnard Foundation, asked the Vietnamese Government to ensure that standards at boarding schools were equal to those in the mainstream culture.  The Vietnamese Government had refused to recognize her people, a concern her delegation had raised for six years, and she asked the Forum to set up a half-day discussion on peoples not recognized by their Governments.  She also urged the creation of a commission to decide on the definition of indigenous peoples.

Other speakers said their communities faced extinction, whether because of climate change or displacement of their peoples by mega-projects approved by their Governments.  Christiana Lowa of the Land is Life Network described the situation of people living on lands between Ethiopia and Kenya who faced water shortage because of dams being built near Lake Turkana.  The lives and livelihoods of nearly half a million people were at stake.  The project was sure to spark population displacement and increase tensions in the scramble for meagre resources.

Signalling a way forward for dealing with such challenges, Danica Littlechild, of the International Indian Treaty Council, recommended that the Forum provide an opportunity to address cross-cutting issues, which could either be added as a separate agenda item or included as a sub-theme under discussion of the Declaration.  She also asked the Forum to establish water as its theme for 2011, a cross-cutting issue that touched all areas of its work.

To be more in tune with realities on the ground, Tankeshwar Rabha, of the Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples North East Zone, urged the Forum to consider holding its sessions in different countries, rather than always in New York.

Presenting statements on issues before the Permanent Forum were representatives of the following organizations, groups and caucuses: International Organization of Indigenous Resource Development, Australia Youth Caucus, Native Women’s Association of Canada, Southeast Indigenous Peoples’ Centre, National Aboriginal Community Control Heath Organization, Indigenous Peoples Organizations of Australia, New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, African Caucus National Native Title Council, Foundation for Aboriginal and Island Research Action, Office of the Israel Constitutional Law and Union Nacional de Tradutores Indigenas A.C.

Also participating were representatives of Coordinadora Nacional de Associaciones Christianas Indigenas del Peru, World Reindeer Herder’s Association, Ethiopian World Association, Negev Co-Existence Forum for Civil Equality, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations - Health and Social Development, Indigenous Environmental Network, Association Taata Tumu/Tahiti Polynésie Française, Mejlis of Crimean Tartar Peoples, Confederation of Indigenous Women of Bolivia, Shimin Gaikou Centre and Chin Human Rights Organization, American Indian Law Alliance, International Indigenous Women’s Forum, Andean Coordination of Indigenous Peoples, Fourth World Centre of Law and Policy, and Comunidad Intergradora del Saber Andino.

The representatives of Indonesia, Colombia and Viet Nam participated in the discussion.  Permanent Forum members from Philippines, Spain and United States also spoke.

Other panellists in the half-day dialogue on forests were Jan McAlipne, Director of the Secretariat of the United Nations Forum on Forests; and Tom Goldtooth of Indigenous Environmental Network.

Statements on indigenous peoples and forests were made on behalf of the following: Comisión Especial Mulipartiaria para Pueblos Indígenas, Asian Caucus and Latin American Caucus.  Forum members from Bolivia, United States and Philippines took part in the discussion, as did representatives of Mexico and Bolivia.

Guyana’s Minister for Amerindian Affairs and the Adviser to the Youth Ministry of the Democratic Republic of the Congo also spoke.

A representative of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also made a statement, as did a member of the European Parliament.

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene tomorrow at 10 a.m. to continue its discussion of issues related to its future work, including those raised by the Economic and Social Council.


The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues met today to continue its debate on the future work of the Permanent Forum, including issues of the Economic and Social Council and emerging issues.  For that agenda item, it was expected to continue discussion on a preliminary study on the impact of the “doctrine of discovery”, and consider issues relating to Beijing+10.  In the afternoon, it was to hold a half-day discussion on indigenous peoples and forests.


WILTON LITTLECHILD, International Organization of Indigenous Resource Development, Native Women’s Association of Canada, addressing aspects from all reports presented over two days, said treaty principles could be a part of addressing climate change.  He also highlighted the right to free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples under treaty agreements.  He supported gender equality vis-à-vis climate change, recognizing the role of indigenous women, and endorsed the results of the fifteenth Conference of Parties meeting in Copenhagen.  On other issues, he supported inclusion of a code of ethics for corporations as part of the proposed work programme.

Speaking specifically for a representative of the Saskatchewan Indian Nations who was no longer in New York, he said the doctrine of discovery aimed to secure respect for treaties.  However, “the doctrine of discovery is a mistake”, and could not serve the interests of indigenous peoples, nor States.  It had been a statement of agreement between European imperial States and later interpreted so that those States had absolute power over indigenous lands.  It allowed Canadian courts to decide that treaties did not have any binding legal force.  A new era, marked by the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, should find inspiration for a new system.

KATHRYN STONE, Australian Youth Caucus, acknowledged the Australian Government’s efforts to improve education for indigenous young people, as they should not be forced to forego their right to an education.  Many were faced with the stark choice of either attending boarding schools or staying on their lands without access to education.  They should be able to access the highest educational standards where they lived.  In 2008, the Government had pledged to learn from past mistakes and, as such, current education policies should ensure that education was grounded in indigenous culture and identity.  More often than not, a safe environment was not provided for students to learn and feel secure.  Those who moved away for their education were less likely to go on to post-secondary education and more likely to take drugs.

DANICA LITTLECHILD, International Indian Treaty Council, Seventh Generation Fund, Flying Eagle Women’s Fund, recommended that the Forum provide an opportunity to address cross-cutting issues, as its mandate was well-suited to that approach.  Those issues could be added as a separate agenda item or included as a sub-theme under discussion of the Declaration.  Indigenous women in highly polluted areas experienced several illnesses, a cross-cutting issue that touched on education, health, development and human rights.  A dedicated meeting on such topics could be an entry point for health workers, among others, to develop responses within the United Nations system.  She recommended that the Forum undertake a study as a follow-up to that on the doctrine of discovery.  She endorsed organizing a follow-up seminar to discuss recommendations.  She asked the Forum for immediate action to establish water as its theme for 2011, a cross-cutting issue that touched all areas of the Forum’s work.  Finally, she supported the idea to hold a round table on truth commissions.

CHANTRIA TRAM, Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation, Montagnard Foundation, sought solutions to the issue of boarding schools.  She recommended that Viet Nam ensure that standards at boarding schools were equal to those of mainstream schools.  It should permit indigenous histories to be taught in both types of schools, and increase the number of places in the boarding schools, to ensure that education did not depend on ethnic background.  She asked the Forum for clarity on one issue.  The Vietnamese Government had refused to recognize her peoples.  It was a concern her delegation had raised for six years.  As such, she asked the Forum to set up half-day discussion on peoples not recognized by their Governments and to set up a commission on the definition of indigenous peoples.  Finally, Viet Nam should agree to a dialogue with her organization, as proof of its commitment to protecting them.

LORI JOHNSTON, Yamasi People, Southeast Indigenous Peoples’ Centre, said the United States had outlawed the self-determination of her people and they could, therefore, not exercise their self-determination.  The United States Government would not discuss with the Yamasi people any issues regarding the impact of ecological degradation of their lands, even though much of the damage and spoilage was being caused by that Government’s callous actions, such as waste dumping and strip mining.  With indigenous natural and biological resources weakened by relentless attack, the effects of global warming were only making matters worse.  She urged the Permanent Forum to identify ways to facilitate safe, ongoing and productive dialogue between indigenous peoples and the States occupying their lands, especially on the impact of climate change and global warming.

ELVERINA JOHNSON, National Aboriginal Community Control Health Organization, highlighted the concerns that were hindering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from achieving the gender goals set out in the Beijing Platform for Action.  She said those women faced serious social, physical and psychological obstacles.  She recommended that the Forum strongly encourage indigenous women to be more active in designing and implementing policies that affected them.

MOHAMMED HAINDAINE, Confédération des Association Amazighes du Sud Marocain, said the ongoing impact of global warming had placed his people in a “dire situation”.  That situation was particularly troubling, because it exacerbated the political difficulties the Amazigh people faced.  He called on the Permanent Forum to deploy the Special Rapporteur on the situation of indigenous people to his region.

TAMMY SOLONEC, Indigenous Peoples Organizations of Australia, said the doctrine of discovery and other policies, such as the doctrine of terra nullius, had left a trail of dehumanized and disposed indigenous peoples across the globe.  Those doctrines codified the theft of indigenous flora and fauna, and classified native peoples as “heathens”, less than human or not even human at all.  The history of such doctrines lived on in Australia and North America, where they were used to perpetuate dominance over indigenous populations in regard to inheritance rights, land title rights and water usage.  She urged the Permanent Forum to, among other things, call on the Australian Government and all national Governments to support and implement the aims of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, especially as regarded traditional land use.

CHRISTIANA LOWA, Land Is Life Network, said climate change continued to affect indigenous people living in the lands between Ethiopia and Kenya.  Moreover, Lake Turkana and its inhabitants now faced an environmental catastrophe.  The lake could start drying up when its main source, the Omo River, was depleted by a huge dam being built across the border in Ethiopia.  The Government of Ethiopia was undertaking a huge project, which included a series of upstream dams on the Omo River; the most imminent being the Gibe III hydroelectric dam, already two years into construction.

The mega project would divert waters from draining into Lake Trukana.  That would not only cause water levels to drop precipitously, it would also lead to an increase in salinity.  Those combined phenomena would ultimately kill the lake.  Moreover, the lives and livelihoods of nearly half a million people were at stake.  The project was sure to spark population displacement and increase tensions in the scramble for meagre resources.  That should be seen as a particularly troubling scenario for a region that was awash in illicit small arms and home to violent groups that were already locked in political struggles.  She called for “a bold and honest statement” from the Ethiopian Government on the status of the project and for that Government to carry out an impact study, including its effect on local indigenous populations.  The international community must pay close attention to the issue, she said.

CRAIG CROMELIN, New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, said he was pleased to report improvements in the situation of native communities of that region, especially those living in coastal areas.  Those communities were dependent on fishing and, while native title legislation offered some avenues for recognition, there was no explicit mention of such rights.  Indeed, the matter of traditional fishing was largely handled by local and community governments and councils.  He noted that Tasmania had provided some support to Aboriginal fisherfolk, including through dispensing with some licensing requirements.  Still, there was a need to ensure proper recognition and acknowledgement of fishing rights and, to that end, he recommended that the Permanent Forum call on all States to give proper meaning to the Declaration, and to call on the Australian Government to draw up specific legislation that addressed the fishing rights of its indigenous and Aboriginal peoples.

OUMAROU HINDOU, African Caucus, said the indigenous peoples of Africa knew no other life than that tied to natural resources and the ecosystems.  There were higher temperatures and winds, and stronger droughts and floods -– all of which impacted vegetation and fauna, and caused food instability.  Animals were either dying or being sold, and resources had been exhausted by “powerful individuals”.  National programmes for adaptation to climate change did not involve indigenous peoples, despite their knowledge of nature and biodiversity.  Her organization was here today to recover indigenous peoples’ right to participate in discussion and decisions at the national level.  She called on the Forum to study such issues and create an awareness of indigenous peoples’ vulnerability, especially to climate change.  Attention must also focus on implementing adaptation projects based on traditional knowledge.

BRIAN WYATT, National Native Title Council, speaking also for the Indigenous Peoples Network of Australia, said Native Title bodies had pushed for changes in the Native Title Act.  Many Native Title practitioners also had called for changing the Chief Justice, the highest position in the justice system.  He asked that the burden of proof be lifted from traditional owners, so that the State bore the burden.  There was little foundation for the dispute over Native Title applicants to their lands.  The evidential burden was more appropriately placed on the State, which was in a better position to explain how it had asserted its authority over a claim area.  State acceptance of that burden might also result in positive behavioural change.

DAVID LEE, Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action, said traditional owners in Australia had been exposed to the global economic crisis and stood to lose significant economic benefits and traditional rights to lands.  Many who had dealt with corporations had traded their rights for jobs and other business opportunities, which had become a best practice.  But, since the downturn, some companies had deferred commencement of their projects.  Agreements negotiated in good faith were now vulnerable to changes in global financial markets.  Traditional land owners could not afford to lose their land rights, especially for no foreseeable benefit.  A natural gas hub was being negotiated in the Kimberley region.  The Government’s determination to ensure growth might force the State to introduce regional schemes that would reduce indigenous peoples’ participation.  It was imperative that traditional peoples had cultural rights on their lands and that their free, prior and informed consent for projects was obtained.  States must ensure that their right to freely pursue cultural development was protected.

MICHAEL SNIDECOR, Office of Israeli Constitutional Law, spoke about the indigenous people of the Middle East and Africa.  In April 1920, the boundary convention forged by the League of Nations had outlined the return of 70 per cent of Jewish tribal lands.  In violation of article 6, the British Government had confiscated most of those lands and, today, his people had less than 12 per cent of the land mandated by the United Nations.  Those expelled from Gaza still lacked permanent homes.  Today, indigenous peoples faced new dangers, as military governors continued to close lands in advance of expulsion.  Incitement laws had been passed.  Describing a “tribe to tribe” programme, he said that, since 1948, Israel had absorbed 3 million tribal members and had been replanting forests.  The Jewish national home was the only place in the world where more trees grew today than 100 years ago.

LUIS CHAVEZ AQUINO, Union Nacional de Tradutores Indigenas A.C., said important progress had been made in Mexico vis-à-vis indigenous peoples.  His organization had worked for the preservation and development of indigenous languages and cultures.  However, while Mexico was among the first countries to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, dissemination efforts had been insufficient and, as a result, indigenous rights to education and religion, among a range of daily life experiences, had been violated.  He suggested developing workshops to explain the contents of the Declaration, with an emphasis on articles related to individual and collective rights.

EUSEBIO CHUCTAYA HANCCO, Coordinadora Nacional de Associaciones Christianas Indigenas del Peru, focused on the need for greater indigenous representation in the higher levels of Government.  He recommended that indigenous affairs receive ministerial-level attention and that a dialogue be maintained with indigenous peoples.  In addition, indigenous voices must be heard by the legislature and, in that context, he suggested implementation of an indigenous parliament that was freely and democratically elected.  A greater budget was needed for education programmes to promote various indigenous languages.  Finally, the Government must consult with indigenous peoples on the use of their forest and land resources before making deals with companies.  An indigenous fund must be created to promote agriculture beyond the subsistence stage.

TANKESHWAR RABHA, Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples North-East Zone, asked India to respect the Declaration.  He also asked that the Government disseminate information on the Declaration and follow-up actions to strengthen dialogue.  United Nations agencies must also have access to indigenous peoples’ grievances and he asked the Forum to hold its sessions in different countries, rather than always in New York.

MIKHAIL POGODAEV, World Reindeer Herder’s Association, said ecosystems in the northern areas were complex and changes were happening quickly.  All knowledge must be used to understand such changes and plan for the future.  That would require a new type of cooperation among reindeer herders, industry and Government.  Environmental problems were not always solved with conventional science.  Reindeer peoples’ response to changes had been hampered by the permanent loss of grazing land, mainly because of industrial development.  Increased human activity in the Arctic required regulation.  Natural resource development, transport and tourism were all drivers of that development.  For their part, herders had lost out from climate change and, now, from industrial development.  There was an urgent need for integrated management plans for reindeer lands in the Arctic, as well as studies on changes in grazing lands of the Circumpolar North.  Finally, he acknowledged his group’s cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the impacts of land use and climate change on nomadic herders.

FATIMA MOHAMED, Ethiopian World Association, said the Permanent Forum must work harder to help alleviate the challenges facing African indigenous women and children.  Many such people had been forcibly displaced from their lands, and there was a need to, among other things, transform the violent behaviour of men, which ultimately had negative trickle-down effects on children; end destruction of indigenous architecture; and promote the aims of the Declaration to ensure self-determination of all indigenous peoples.

GRATA ENDAH WERDANINGTYAS (Indonesia) said her Government supported the Forum’s role in promoting many of the United Nations founding principles.  As a multi-ethnic and multilingual society, Indonesia had a long history of plurality and solidarity.  That philosophy had been a driving force behind the country’s democratic transformation.  It had also helped the country strike a balance between economic growth, development and respect for human rights.  The Government had allowed the practice of regional autonomy as a way to maintain harmony and ensure the sustained development of the entire country.  She called on the Permanent Forum to continue to improve its methods of work, including through examining the procedures of other subsidiary bodies of the Economic and Social Council.

HOANG THI THANH NGA (Viet Nam), rejected the statement made on behalf of the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation, Montagnard Foundation.  As usual, the situation presented in that statement “is totally fabricated”.  Further, that organization did not represent any ethnic group in Viet Nam and only spoke in this and other forums out of political motivation.  Viet Nam would, therefore, express its traditional opposition to the participation of that group in the work of the Permanent Forum.

Viet Nam’s Constitution and entire legal system guaranteed the equal rights and participation of all indigenous groups and ethnic minorities.  Rather than list all her country’s efforts to protect and promote indigenous peoples rights, she urged the participants to examine various national documents and previous statements that clearly set out the Government’s aims.

RAWIA ABURABIA, Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, said the pastoral and semi-nomadic Bedouins of the Negev were an indigenous people.  Yet, following the establishment of Israel, they had been displaced from most of their lands.  Israel continued to deny the rights of some 9,000 Bedouins living in the Negev.  Their villages did not appear on any maps.  There were no road signs to mark their existence.  They had no access to basic services, sanitation or clean water.  They lived under constant threat of home demolition, as it was illegal to build permanent structures in there villages.

She said that hundreds of legal claims had been submitted to the Israeli Government for reclamation of Bedouin lands, but very few had ever been considered.  Another problem was that various projects being carried out by the Jewish National Fund were threatening to drive even more Bedouins from their native and ancestral lands.  With all that in mind, she said Bedouins must be allowed to remain in their villages and those villages must be recognized.  The Permanent Forum must press Israel to suspend the activities of the Jewish National Fund until all land claim issues were resolved.

WES GEORGE, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations -- Health and Social Development, applauded the Permanent Forum’s preliminary study on the impact of the doctrine of discovery.  Nevertheless, more work was needed, especially to take care of “unfinished business” regarding the impact of such polices on treaty laws.  He also recommended the convening of an international conference to mark the end of the Second International Decade.

TOM GOLDTOOTH, Indigenous Environmental Network, said his delegation welcomed the Permanent Forum’s excellent study on the impact of climate change on indigenous peoples.  He urged the Forum to continue such work, especially in light of the human rights violations that occurred when national adaptation and mitigation projects were undertaken.  He called for a study to be presented at the Forum’s next session specifically dealing with the impact on indigenous peoples’ human rights of hydro-dam construction and other such projects.

MAREVA NETYI DE MONTLUC, Association Taata Tumu/Tahiti Polynésie Française, said there were many human rights violations being perpetrated against indigenous peoples in French Polynesia.  Those peoples were very attached to their identities as Pacific peoples.  Given the difficulty of living under the tutelage of a foreign country, she said: “We demand that respect be given to the holistic indigenous view of the world and family relations with nature.”

She also urged that the indigenous peoples of French Polynesia be primary beneficiaries of any cultural and intellectual property derived from their lands, waters and territories.  She also urged that French Polynesia be returned to the list of territories recognized by the United Nations as needing to be decolonized.  It had been unilaterally removed from that list without its free, prior and informed consent.

AYLA BAKKULLI, Mejlis of the Crimean Tartar Peoples, said the need to address the situation of the Crimean Tartar peoples, especially preserving their language and culture, could not be overemphasized.  Such traditional heritage was the seed bed for the exercise of self-determination.  She urged the Permanent Forum to press the Ukraine to address the situation of the Crimean Tartars through, among others, constructing schools in the indigenous Crimean Tartar settlements, restoring Crimean Tartar heritage, and assisting in easing the mechanism of repatriation for over 100,000 that were in exile against their will.

JUSTA CABRERA DE FLORES, Confederation of Indigenous Women of Bolivia, said there must be respect for indigenous peoples’ freedom of speech.  The Declaration had become a tool to assist indigenous peoples in the struggle to exercise their self-determination.  At the same time, she stressed, despite the fact that many States supported the Declaration, most indigenous peoples were still not allowed to make decisions regarding the minerals and natural resources on their lands and territories, even when such national Governments had declared such regions as “autonomous”.  That was a serious issue that the Permanent Forum must address.

MAKIKO KIMURA, Shimin Gaikou Centre and Chin Human Rights Organization, said the human rights of the people of the Ainu culture were being violated.  They were routinely discriminated against and were not allowed to exercise control over their ancestral lands.  The Japanese Government constructed facilities such as dams and nuclear power plants on Ainu lands that had led to the accumulation and dumping of chemical waste.  He said the Permanent Forum must press the Japanese Government to establish local systems to ensure that free, prior and informed consent was received before any projects were carried out.  The Special Rapporteur was urged to use his good offices to intervene directly with that Government to discuss the impact of waste-dumping sites.

DARWIN HILL, American Indian Law Alliance, said his delegation supported calls for a comprehensive study of the impact of the doctrine of discovery on indigenous peoples in the seven regions identified in the report of the Permanent Forum.  He also supported calls for the convening of an expert group meeting on the topic.

Delivering a statement on behalf of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum, VICTORIA TAULI-CORPUZ, Permanent Forum member from Philippines, said important progress had been made since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995.  Governments had established institutions to provide support for indigenous women and promote their participation in decision-making structures.  She said the Indigenous Women’s Forum had carried out a study to examine, among other things, the prevalence of racism, discriminatory treatment by State authorities and land dispossession.  That study had been critical, because the situation of indigenous women was often concealed by scattershot statistics and “national averages”.  Given the central importance of indigenous women in all spheres of life, it was necessary to provide better statistics, promote and support a development process led by indigenous women, and scale up funds and resources for health services.

DENISE ELNAJJAR, Syriac Universal Alliance, said that, despite their extensive and lasting historical contributions to human culture and religion, the Syriacs, or Assyrians, continued to be a “forgotten people” in the Middle East.  They were the indigenous people of Mesopotamia and had a history spanning over 6,000 years.  Aramaic was the oldest living language in the Middle East, yet the Syraic people had never enjoyed basic rights.

For example, he said, Turkey had signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but it continued to treat its Syriac people as second-class citizens.  Throughout the region, their language and traditional cultures were in constant danger of being trampled.  With that in mind, he called on Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon to allow the Special Rapporteur to visit their countries and examine the situation of the respective Syriac communities.  He also called on the Permanent Forum to convene, at its next session, a special half-day meeting on the situation of Syriac peoples of the Middle East.

MIGUEL PALACIN QUISPE, Andean coordination of Indigenous Peoples, described the serious threat to indigenous peoples in Colombia, saying that 18 nations in that country faced disappearance.  Others faced military violence.  There were 32 nations each with only 500 inhabitants, and 10 nations with less than 100, but the constitutional committee of Colombia only recognized two nations.  Legislative steps were being taken.  In Peru, the Bagua conflict had made the situation serious for indigenous people.  As such, the Forum must issue a recommendation regarding those peoples under threat of extinction, specifically highlighting the case in Colombia.  The Forum should also send an urgent mission to Colombia to report on measures taken vis-à-vis indigenous peoples.  He asked the Forum to recommend that developing country Governments take into account plans for indigenous peoples in their development agendas.  He also pressed the Forum to include in its tenth session issues related to militarization and criminalization.

LARISA HARWEY, Fourth World Centre of Law and Policy, said marginalized people included hunter-gatherers and the M’bororo pastoralists, who were nomads and semi-nomads.  Many constitutions mentioned minorities, but did not specify which people were included.  While the Central African Republic recently had ratified International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169, and Congo had also made advances, Cameroon had made a “u-turn”, especially in the application of articles 3 and 32 of the Declaration.  Many hunter-gatherers had been displaced from forests without their free, prior and informed consent to create room for pipelines, among other projects.  Several worked without payment or were paid with alcohol, which only added to their problems.  M’bororos had suffered “massive” land dispossession to make way for a private ranch owned by a multimillionaire.  That takeover was done without the prior, free or informed consent of the M’bororo people.  She called for pushing the Cameroon Government to end such disruptions.

CARLOS SUÁREZ (Colombia), addressing the request for the Forum to send a mission to Colombia, said the topic had been discussed last week.  In line with that recommendation, the Government had announced it would invite the Forum in the near future to better understand the situation of peoples affected by violence.  Also, Colombia had briefed last week on the decisions of the court related to violence caused by illegal armed groups, which had affected indigenous communities.  The Government had described efforts to safeguard the 32 vulnerable nations, in line with the decisions of the constitutional court.  Colombia sought to safeguard all indigenous nations.

On the issue of recognition of certain nations, he said there were 82 indigenous nations.  Ethnological studies had been carried out to satisfy their requests.  His Government did not deny that there were serious problems of violence caused by illegal armed groups.  The goal was to protect indigenous rights and foster dialogue to deal with problems.   Colombia would continue to work with the Forum to enhance indigenous rights.

On that point, BARTOLOMÉ CLAVERO SALVADOR, Forum member from Spain, said he was concerned at the indigenous peoples’ situation in Colombia.  The Government had said it was protecting their rights when communities were displaced due to military activities.  Until now, decisions of constitutional courts had not been fully complied with.  The latest order had been given to the director of national defence, to study why indigenous communities should be defended by the Colombian army.  The constitutional court had said that, if indigenous peoples were against the army, there must be a reason.

TONYA GONNELLA FRICHNER, Forum member from the United States, said she had worked with women’s associations in Canada and the United States on a proposal for a national action plan to bring attention to women’s issues.  It focused on making authorities more accountable for their actions.  Highlighting certain elements, she said six points recognized space for indigenous women.  Work should be undertaken to build an unbiased police response; provide resources to address violence; improve public awareness through compilation of national statistics; and reduce risks faced by aboriginal women by closing the socio-economic gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous people.  Indeed, the plan should be given close scrutiny.  On a final note, she said that, while missing and murdered indigenous women had received attention, other forms of racial and sexual violence, like trafficking, also required immediate action.

MYRIAM SÁNCHEZ, Comunidad Integradora del Saber Andino, speaking on behalf of several groups, said indigenous peoples did not want multinational companies to trample their collective rights, including to self-determination.  “The only thing they leave in their wake is pollution”, she said, urging the Economic and Social Council to help integrate the Declaration into national legislations.  The United Nations should provide funds to translate the Declaration into indigenous languages.  She called on Panama to heed recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur.  Moreover, States should no longer favour international mining companies over indigenous peoples.  Rights to education, health care and other areas were regularly infringed upon and the Declaration flouted.  The Forum should urge Governments to improve their situation.

Discussion on Indigenous Peoples and Forests

In the afternoon, the Permanent Forum held a dialogue on the topic of indigenous peoples and forests.

The first panellist, JAN McALPINE, Director of the Secretariat of the United Nations Forum on Forests, set the context for the discussion, saying that 1.6 billion people depended in some way on the world’s forests for their livelihoods, culture or religious sustenance.  Of course, forests also held huge economic value, so there was a need to balance the needs of indigenous communities with economic concerns.  The United Nations Forum on Forests and the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests had begun to integrate indigenous concerns into their discussions, especially regarding ensuring respect for traditional rights and protecting rights and privileges related to traditional forest-related knowledge and forest biological resources.

She went on to note that the Forum on Forests had, in 2007, adopted the non-legally binding instrument on all types of forests, which, among other things, emphasized the strong links between forests and people; traditional forest-related knowledge and practices; fair and equitable sharing of benefits; and access to forest resources and markets to support livelihoods of indigenous communities.  She called on the Permanent Forum and indigenous peoples’ groups to work closely with the Forest Forum to promote implementation of the forest instrument, especially to ensure that global commitments on sustainable forest management were upheld.

She noted that the theme of the upcoming ninth session of the Forum on Forests would be “Forests for People, Livelihoods and Poverty Eradication”.  It would focus on community-based forest management, social development and indigenous and other local forest-dependent communities, as well as forest land tenure issues.  Finally, she flagged a related event, noting that 2011 had been designated the International Year of the Forest, and the Forum would also be focusing on local-level issues and highlighting, in that regard, the work of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, including in such areas as land tenure and the impact of forest conversion on communities, food, energy and water.

MARIA TERESA MESQUITA PESSÔA (Brazil) said indigenous territories represented 13 per cent of Brazil’s landmass, an area the size of France and Portugal.  They formed an “immense green tapestry” of native forest conservation.  Brazil possessed the world’s largest contiguous tropical rainforest.  The Brazilian Amazon was home to 15 to 20 per cent of the 1.7 million known living species.  Evidence suggested that a portion of what was considered wild forest in the Amazon could be the product of thousands of years of organized natural resource management and use by human populations in the region.

Forests had to be considered from the perspective of sustainable development, she said.  Equally important to factors concerning environmental protection (reduced deforestation) were issues associated with economy (value-adding instruments), commerce (market access) and society and culture (protection of indigenous knowledge).

On the global front, forests were covered under the instrument on all types of forests, a major achievement in that it determined that indigenous peoples should be involved in all decision-making that affected them, she said.  Discussion on mobilizing international financial and technological resources was under way and Brazil hoped that the proposal submitted by developing countries to the Global Forest Fund would be approved in 2013, when the talks concluded.

Issues like financing for sustainable forest management, biodiversity conservation, water resource protection and equitable benefit-sharing had a real and immediate impact on peoples in indigenous territories, she continued.  Global efforts to promote such management must comply with applicable national indigenous legislations.  Among the rights to be observed was that indigenous communities must have the authority to decide on the use of traditional knowledge relating to genetic resources.

She said international instruments should protect traditional knowledge and ensure the equitable benefit sharing genetic resources.  ILO Convention 169 was the first -– and only -- legally binding instrument to address indigenous groups.  It was important for protecting traditional knowledge, as was the Declaration, which guaranteed the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples.

At the same time, an international regime was still required to determine how benefits derived from biodiversity were to be shared, she said.  The Convention on Biological Diversity was the appropriate instrument to decide that regime.  Principles contained in the Rio Declaration recognized national sovereignty over their natural resources.  The Convention, on the other hand, recognized the historic dependence of local communities on biological resources and the need to ensure equitable sharing of benefits.  Brazil was committed to concluding negotiations on a protocol to the Convention on access and benefit-sharing and looked forward to its adoption in October.

On the domestic front, Brazil sought to institute territorial and environment management mechanisms on indigenous lands, she said, citing the “indigenous portfolio” which aimed at food security and was among other social policies that had been adopted for that purpose. In sum, the protection of traditional knowledge was of equal importance to other issues related to indigenous peoples, including the rights to health and land.

Ms. TAULI-CORPUZ, Permanent Forum member from the Philippines, said the history of State control and destruction of forests, as well as of the rampant extraction of forest-based resources, was a “painful” one.  Indeed, one could follow the march of colonial conquest by the heavily deforested footprints it had left in indigenous lands and territories.  For the Philippines, that meant a decrease in about 50 per cent of its forest cover over the years.

It was estimated that 60 million people lived in or near the world’s tropical rainforests.  Sadly, studies had revealed that those people lived is some of the most poverty-stricken conditions on the planet, and that their local Governments were among the most corrupt.  The people who depended on tropical forests held the most knowledge about ways to preserve them and protect their natural resources, but were rarely, if ever, consulted on such matters.  Stressing the important role indigenous people played in protecting and managing their own lands, she noted that Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) -- the proposed mechanism for compensating countries for protecting forests -- could be a powerful tool for indigenous communities to protect themselves against climate impacts, but only if the rights of forest people were recognized.

Turning to other challenges, she said that conservation initiatives, such as the creation of national parks and wilderness reserves, had led to the ejection of many indigenous communities, primarily because conservationists believed that the only way forests could be preserved was by “throwing out all the people”.  Another challenge was deforestation, including through climate change mitigation initiatives that were pushing the introduction of biofuel plantations into untouched forests groves.  She said the Permanent Forum was actively following such issues and believed that it should take advantage of the International Year of Forests to highlight the concerns of native peoples.  “It’s about time that the international community and States really recognize the rights of indigenous peoples […] by reforming colonialists polices and giving indigenous people the rights to manage their own lands,” she said.

Speaking next, PAVEL SULYANDZIGA, Forum member from the Russian Federation, said his people numbered only 1,600 in four settlements.  However, about 50 years ago, his people had comprised eight ethnic groups.  “Our lives are interlinked with the rivers,” he said.  Despite that, his people had been deprived of their forests in the Taiga region; they had been cut down.  Economies would increasingly depend on resources belonging to indigenous peoples.  Traditional norms that had evolved over thousands of years were intimately linked to the natural environment.

Describing an incident in Moscow, he said an organization comprised of famous businessmen had discussed development of Siberia and the Far East, and had included an item on indigenous peoples.  However, participants had decided “not to open a can of worms” -- they did not understand that they could not have modern society without resolving the rights of indigenous peoples.

In the Taiga there were areas where no human foot had been placed on the ground, he said.  It was a region where “the North and the South come together”.  The four remaining groups of Udege people had fought to preserve their territories, notably in 1993, when industrialists had set their sites on it.  At that time, he had contacted then President Boris Yeltsin and a decision was made to freeze that project.  Later, the military had tried to build a road through his lands and his people had signed an agreement whereby the road would skirt the territory.

He went on to describe numerous other incidents, including in 1995, when the gold industry had tried to extract gold from the region’s river.  In 1998, Russian authorities had tried to fake the signatures of indigenous peoples and another project was stopped.  In 2002, the Primorsky region had started planning for industrial development and the Udege people had been able to stop such plans.  In 2009, after many court cases, a decision had been made to return the region to the Udege and stop plans for a national park.

All those events showed that his people, time and again, had had to fight for their rights, he said, noting that they had little time left over for more creative activities.  The Russian President had said the aim was to preserve indigenous peoples and safeguard their cultures.  Those words inspired his people to continue fighting for their rights.

The next panellist, Mr. GOLDTOOTH, Indigenous Environmental Network, said that his region of Minnesota contained the most expansive forests remaining in the lower 48.  Those forests were home to some of the country’s most threatened species, including wolves, black bears, bald eagles and ospreys.  Sadly, the region’s ecological diversity, along with the ways of life of the indigenous cultures that were so closely intertwined with it, were under immense pressure as the rate of clear-cutting in the forests surrounding the Great Lakes continued to intensify.

Continuing, he said the approach seemed to be that the trees were a form of income, rather than a source of spiritual inspiration.  As that view -- “a market view” -- had taken hold, the landscape of his homeland had been completely altered.  “Our consciousness is based on a spiritual subsistence relationship with trees.  All that has changed,” he said, lamenting that, as the logging concerns continued to strip the land bare, trees were now seen as a source of money.  That had posed challenges that the region’s indigenous people had never before faced.

His people were also being challenged with domestic and national proposals to use their ancestral forests within a carbon offset system.  The dialogue around proposals such as the REDD initiative had caused deep divisions in communities and families of indigenous peoples of the north.  That plan, by which wealthy countries would pay to preserve forests in developing countries as a way to offset their climate-changing carbon emissions at home, was being “fast tracked” as the best way to mitigate climate change.

With pristine and vital indigenous lands essentially “up for sale”, many native communities had serious questions about the efficacy of such carbon-trading schemes.  So far, very few of those questions had been answered.  So, contrary to reports, there was no consensus among indigenous communities participating in the emerging carbon market to mitigate climate change.  Yet, what was clear was that the risks to their livelihoods were high.  Indeed, indigenous peoples were cautious about selling carbon credits to the same Governments and large corporations that were destroying the atmosphere and the ecosystems that they relied on for their survival.

Continuing, he said that history was replete with attempts by States and multinationals to commodify or “corporatize” indigenous resources, ideas and traditions, and many native peoples believed that the aim of proposals, such as the REDD initiative, were to generate profits for polluters, not to stop climate change.  For most indigenous people, it was clear that such projects must be replaced with new and real commitments to stop deforestation once and for all, he declared.

GABRIELA GARDUÑO (Mexico) said that between 13 million and 15 million people lived in Mexico’s forests, and the Government had a plan for indigenous peoples included in its forestry agenda, whose objectives was to provide access for forestry producers, strengthen indigenous organizations’ capacity-building and develop local payments for local service systems.  It also outlined efforts to help indigenous forestry producers improve management through culturally relevant support. Mexico would report to the Forum, as it evaluated those programmes.

On a global level, she said an analysis was under way in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on mitigating climate change, especially through the conservation and management of forestry resources.  Indigenous representation was essential to developing strategies that arose in that process.  Mexico had contributed to the design of the REDD programme.  Among other things, Mexico had allocated some 1 billion pesos in 2009 for the payment of environmental services.  Mexico would host the sixteenth Conference of Parties to the Climate Change Convention in November, with the goal of reaching consensus agreements.  Mexico was the first developing nation to present its fourth national communication to the United Nations, showing how much carbon it was emitting and where it could reduce emissions.

JOHN KOLONI LONGO, Adviser to the Ministry of Youth Affairs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said discrimination between populations, and against indigenous peoples, was not a major problem in his country.  People had always lived in harmony.  Military confrontations were more political in nature.  By way of example, he said that, one year after independence, the Prime Minister had died and a member of the Pygmy nation had become Prime Minister.  However, indigenous peoples were not living in perfect conditions -- there were development problems.  People were moving en masse to cities.  The continued destruction of the environment and deforestation due to logging, undertaken without any reimbursement to indigenous peoples, were among the greatest harms done to them.  Land laws and laws governing mineral resources did not give indigenous peoples rights to deal with lands as they saw fit.  The Ministry of Youth and Sport had started a debate to help indigenous peoples.  One plan aimed to develop a volunteer corps to work for the most vulnerable.  He would be grateful if any delegations could share their experiences with such volunteer efforts.

The next speaker, ELISA CANQUI MOLLO, Forum member from Bolivia, likened forests to “national savings banks” for indigenous peoples; places where they could go for spiritual inspiration and physical sustenance.  She joined others in lamenting the state of implementation of the world’s forest management polices.  Many States were acting in bad faith; they ignored their international obligations regarding forests and routinely ignored or undercut the rights of indigenous people to carry out traditional activities on forest lands.  That was unconscionable, she declared, especially since the only reason forests still existed at all was because of the centuries of care provided them by indigenous peoples.

Yet, she acknowledged that indigenous people were at a disadvantage in the fight to reclaim their ancestral lands and end the exploitation of natural resources.  Without broad representation in State structures and mechanisms, “the only power we have is to say ‘No’.  So we must keep saying No!” she declared.  Indigenous people must keep pressing for implementation of the Declaration.  Indeed, it was high time that all States, agencies and funds acknowledged indigenous rights to forests.  Those entities must seek free, prior and informed consent before they carried out projects in native forests and jungles.

Pablo Solón (Bolivia) read out the “People’s Accord” that had been adopted by the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth on 22 April.  The Conference had been convened by Bolivian President Evo Morales and held in Cochabamba, from 19 to 22 April.  Among other things, that agreement called on developed countries to cut their greenhouse gases by 50 per cent by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels).  It also wanted the average global temperature rise to be limited to 1° C.  It also called for the establishment of an “international court of climate and environmental justice” to prosecute States, companies and people that damaged the climate.

In the continued debate, Government speakers shared their countries’ approach to the sustainable management of forests and efforts in the REDD programme.  Other indigenous speakers pointed out that indigenous peoples were often the largest land owners in their countries.

Mr. CLAVERO, Forum member from Spain, focused on comments about Peru’s resistance to recognizing indigenous rights relating to forests.  In the Forum, States’ voices could not be reduced to missions or embassies, forgetting the voices of congressional and judicial bodies, and of course, the indigenous organizations.

FLORINA LOPEZ, Latin American Caucus (Abya Yala), said that, despite progress, most indigenous rights were being rejected.  That was a direct aggression on her people, plants and forests.  Using forests to solve climate change problems, displacing indigenous peoples and failing to recognize their needs was an affront to people in the Amazon.  She recommended the urgent implementation of the Declaration in all development processes and implementation of ILO Convention 169.  She also urged recognition of their sovereignty over lands and resources and the rejection of REDD and “Clean Development Mechanism” projects that endangered forests.

MARGARET LOKAWUA, Forum member from Uganda, said the issue of REDD was becoming contentious -– perhaps it was not well understood.  Also, women’s participation in discussions was important.  She also raised the issue of tuberculosis, saying that where the disease was a major problem, health care systems were poorly functioning or non-existent.  It was a human rights infringement: tuberculosis was curable and she was alarmed at the rates among indigenous peoples.  She urged the World Health Organization (WHO) to appoint a focal point who would engage indigenous people in tuberculosis programmes.  Next year, she suggested that regions report on tuberculosis rates in areas where health care was inadequate.

Responding to some of the comments and questions, Mr. GOLDTOOTH said there had been intense debate in Bolivia on REDD and other carbon market initiatives.  Many participants had said they would participate in the negotiations on launching such mechanisms, but others had expressed concern about the capitalist aims of such projects.  In addition, many indigenous groups were still confused about REDD’s financial mechanism, as well as about what the actual benefits of carbon offsets would be.  Finally, he was concerned that many of the large non-governmental organizations that had been tasked with informing indigenous peoples about carbon market initiatives were not doing a good job of informing them about all the intricacies.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut